I’m currently revising for a horrid exam for my Masters, so to distract myself with more pleasant things, I thought I’d gather all the books that I think make excellent springtime reads. A few are from my ‘to read’ pile, while others are much-loved favourites that simply must be enjoyed when everything’s blossoming and nature is raw and green. Best served with a glass of elderflower.
The Worst Journey in the World by Apsley Cherry-Garrard
My favourite small museum in the world is Gilbert White’s House in Selborne, just south of Alton. Aside from its claim as the home of Britain’s first naturalist, it also holds the Oates Collections, an exhibit focusing on the adventures of two members of the Oates family who were explorers of the natural world. Captain Lawrence Oates was a member of Captain Scott’s infamous Terra Nova Expedition to the South Pole in 1911-12. When his health started failing on the journey home, he sacrificed himself to allow his comrades to travel onwards, leaving the tent in a terrible blizzard with those immortal words: ‘I am just going outside and may be some time.’
My obsession with Arctic and Antarctic landscapes has always drawn me to the story of Captain Scott’s doomed journey, and Cherry-Gerrard’s first-hand narrative is possibly one of the most celebrated, having survived to tell the whole horrific tale. I love stories that remind me of the power of nature, and the foolish assumption that man can overcome it.
Badgerlands by Patrick Barkham
It seems rather apt to read this with the UK General Election looming. I have been against the badger cull almost since the very beginning; I was open-minded enough to try and understand the reasoning behind it, but it makes absolutely no scientific sense. I personally believe it stems from the Conservatives wanting to appease angry farmers with a quick solution, rather than investing in vaccinations and acknowledging that culls often increase bovine TB rates rather than reduce them. I didn’t think you could find worse than Owen Paterson, but Liz Truss seems to be doing a pretty terrible job in his stead.
Patrick Barkham is a fantastic nature writer, especially his work for The Guardian. Badgerlands is an intriguing book about the world of one our most elusive creatures; many of us only see them lying on the side of the road, but at night the countryside is brimming with them. Georgia Locock is particularly skilled at capturing them on camera! This is a great read for anyone interested in living in harmony with nature rather than against it.
Voyage of the Beagle by Charles Darwin
In my final year of my undergrad degree, I wrote an essay on H G Wells’ The Time Machine and The War of the Worlds. Many of my points were based around evolution, and I regularly referred to Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. In the midst of my research, I also skimmed a few pages of Voyage of the Beagle, and realised how underrated it was.
It’s one of man’s greatest historical adventures. Darwin’s journey around the world in the 1840s took him to previously unknown landscapes; from Rio de Janeiro to Tierra del Fuego, Tahiti, New Zealand and the Galapagos, he was sailing to completely unchartered areas in search of nature’s greatest puzzle pieces. It may be that his final theories in Origin of Species are his most celebrated work today, but I love being able to travel back to the 19th century and discover it with him all over again!
Ring of Bright Water by Gavin Maxwell
As a lover of everything nature-related, I’m ashamed to say I’d never read this classic before now. Published in 1960, it’s an autobiographical account of how Maxwell brought an otter back from Iraq to his house on the west coast of Scotland, and raised it as his own. It’s one of the most beautiful accounts of man’s relationship with the natural world, which is why I find it particularly relevant as we move forward into the 21st century.
After reading Tony Juniper’s What Nature Does for Britain, it’s becoming more apparent to me how we choose to distance ourselves from nature, as if we are not part of it. We foolishly seem to think that it’s us and them, rather than realising that we rely on a healthy ecosystem to survive. Being environmentally aware isn’t just about tree-hugging and vegan cakes; it’s a necessary lifestyle choice that we all must take, or everything will collapse around us. This book is a great motivator to appreciate the complexities of our natural world, as well as being a captivating story.
The Night is Darkening Round Me by Emily Brontë
‘I wish I were out of doors! I wish I were a girl again, half savage and hardy, and free…’
Nothing illustrates the wildness of human nature more than Emily Brontë’s windswept novel Wuthering Heights. Her poetry is much lesser known, but Penguin have released a collection of 80 ‘Little Black Classics’ to celebrate their 80th anniversary, and this is the one I picked up with glee. It’s only a small selection of her poems, but they are full of the same anguish, passion and raw natural imagery as her novel. Not exactly poetry to read at weddings, but it’s dark, velvety and full of life.